Tuesday, May 24, 2005

No Wonder Families Are Fleeing the Cities

Headline: Child Population Dwindles in San Francisco

San Francisco has the smallest share of small-fry of any major U.S. city. Just 14.5 percent of the city's population is 18 and under.

It is no mystery why U.S. cities are losing children. The promise of safer streets, better schools and more space has drawn young families away from cities for as long as America has had suburbs.

But kids are even more scarce in San Francisco than in expensive New York (24 percent) or in retirement havens such as Palm Beach, Fla., (19 percent), according to Census estimates.

Why? This is part of it:

San Francisco's large gay population — estimated at 20 percent by the city Public Health Department — is thought to be one factor.... [No kidding!]

Then, there's this:

Another reason San Francisco's children are disappearing: Family housing in the city is especially scarce and expensive. A two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot starter home is considered a bargain at $760,000.

And this:

Determined to change things, Mayor Gavin Newsom has put the kid crisis near the top of his agenda, appointing a 27-member policy council to develop plans for keeping families in the city.

"It goes to the heart and soul of what I think a city is about — it's about generations, it's about renewal and it's about aspirations," said Newsom, 37. "To me, that's what children represent and that's what families represent and we just can't sit back idly and let it go away."

Newsom has expanded health insurance for the poor to cover more people under 25, and created a tax credit for working families. And voters have approved measures to patch up San Francisco's public schools, which have seen enrollment drop from about 62,000 to 59,000 since 2000.

One voter initiative approved up to $60 million annually to restore public school arts, physical education and other extras that state spending no longer covers. Another expanded the city's Children's Fund, guaranteeing about $30 million a year for after-school activities, child care subsidies and other programs.

"We are at a crossroads here," said N'Tanya Lee, executive director of the nonprofit Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. "We are moving toward a place where we could have an infrastructure of children's services and no children."

"Children's services" cost money, which requires higher taxes, which in turn will drive more young, middle-class families out to the suburbs. But "city planners" just don't get it:

Other cities are trying similar strategies. Seattle has created a children's fund, like the one in San Francisco. Leaders in Portland, Ore., are pushing developers to build affordable housing for families, a move Newsom has also tried.

Why should families stay in the city?

They can enjoy world-class museums, natural beauty and an energy they say they cannot find in the suburbs.

Well, the enjoyment of museums and so-called beauty doesn't happen through osmosis. It takes an active effort. The same enjoyment can be had by occasionally commuting into the city from the suburbs. As for "energy," that's just another word for crime, pollution, congestion, and weird people.